Microsoft Teams Announcements and New Features – Enhance your meetings today

Microsoft Teams has just turned 2. To celebrate, new features have been announced and are coming your way soon. With this wave of new features there aren’t many reasons left not to adopt Microsoft Teams. Many of our customers are embracing Teams as they see the value in a connected collaboration experience that brings together voice, chat, content & meetings.

For me, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting. Though, as people embrace flexible working, are geographically distributed or constantly on the go, connecting with others can be challenging. A recent focal point for many has been creating a connected meeting experience that brings physical & virtual spaces together. I’ve heard stories and experienced first-hand the challenges with traditional meeting room technology. Dial-ins never work, people can’t see the what’s being presented in the physical room, it’s difficult to hear people on the phone, people don’t have the right version of the software…the list of frustrations is long.

The announcement has lots of new features that enhances a range of experiences though, I want to focus on the ones I think enhance the meting experience.

Microsoft Whiteboard

Whilst still in preview, this is a hidden gem. Microsoft Whiteboard allows people to quickly draw and share in real-time. No physical whiteboards needed. Better yet the drawings are automatically saved and easily available when you need to revisit. Taking it one step further –  those lucky enough to have Surface Hub, tighter Teams integration is coming your way. There’s lots of interest in Surface Hub and worthwhile checking out.

New Calendar App

The current Meetings Tab is being renamed to Calendar and lots of updates are coming. You’ll be able to join, RSVP, cancel or decline meetings from the right click-menu. You’ll be able to see a range of views including weekly, daily or work week which will honour your settings in Outlook. So no need to switch to Outlook as often. You have to wonder – will Teams eventually replace Outlook? I think so.

New Meeting Devices

As Teams grows, so does the maturity of hardware. There are some great new Teams Certified devices from AudioCodes, Crestron, HP, Jabra, Lenovo, Logitech, Plantronics/Polycom & Sennheiser. Check out the Teams Marketplace to buy and start trialling.

My colleague Craig Chiffers has some great articles on managing Teams devices & enabling Teams Rooms – worthwhile reads if you are looking to start using these devices.

Content Cameras and Intelligent Capture

For those people who like to still use white boards, this feature is for you! Not only can you now add a second camera to your meeting, it digitises the physical whiteboard. The intelligent capture ensures your white board drawings are still visible even as your draw, check out below to see it in action –borrowed from Microsoft Announcement.

Hopefully that’s given you a quick overview of the great new features coming to Microsoft Teams soon.

Office 365 Lessons Learned – Advice on how to approach your deployment

Hindsight sometimes gets the better of us. That poor storm trooper.  If only he had the advice before Obi-Wan Kenobi showed up.  Clearly the Galactic Empire don’t learn lessons.  Perhaps consultants use the Jedi mind trick to persuade their customers?

I’ve recently completed an 18 month project that rolled out Office 365 to an ASX Top 30 company. This project successfully rolled out Office 365 to each division & team across the company, migrating content from SharePoint 2007 and File Shares. It hit the success criteria, was on-budget & showed positive figures on adoption metrics.

Every project is unique and has lessons to learn, though we rarely take time to reflect. This post is part of the learning process, it’s a brief list of lessons we learned along the way. It adds credibility when a consultancy can honestly say – Yes, we’ve done this before,  here’s what we learned & here’s how it applies to your project. I believe Professional Services companies lose value when they don’t reflect & learn, including on their successful projects.

Don’t try to do too much

We often get caught up in capabilities of a platform and want to deploy them all. A platform like Office 365 has an endless list of capabilities. Document Management, Forms, Workflow, Planner, Teams, New intranet, Records Management, Automated governance…the list goes on. Check out my recent post on how you can use the power of limitation to create value. When we purely focus on capabilities, we can easily lose sight of how overwhelming it can be to people who use them.  After all, the more you try to do, the more you’ll spend on consulting services.

Choose your capabilities, be clear on your scope, communicate your plans and road map future capability.

Design for day 1 and anticipate future changes

People in the business are not technology experts. They are experts in their relevant fields e.g. finance, HR, risk, compliance etc.  You can’t expect them to know & understand all the concepts in Office 365 without them using it. Once people start using Office 365, they start to understand and then the Ahah! moment. Now the change requests start flowing.

Design for day 1 and anticipate future changes. Resource your project so post go-live activities includes design adjustments and enhancements. Ensure these activities don’t remove key resources from the next team you are migrating.

Respect business priorities

It’s easy to forget that people have a day job, they can’t be available all the time for your project. This is more so the case when there’s important business process like budgeting, results and reporting are on.  You can’t expect to migrate or even plan to migrate during these periods, it just wont fly. If you are migrating remote teams, be mindful of events or processes that only affect them. There might be an activity which requires 100% of their time.

When planning & scheduling, be mindful of these priorities. Don’t assume they can carry the extra workload you are creating for them. Work with senior stakeholders to identify times when to engage or avoid.

Focus on the basics

Legacy systems that have been in place for years means people are very comfortable with how to use them. Office 365 often has multiple ways of doing the same thing – take Sharing for example, there’s 20+ ways to share the same content, through the browser, Office Pro Plus client, Outlook, OneDrive client, Office portal etc.

Too much choice is bad. Pick, train & communicate one way to do something. Once people become comfortable, they’ll find out the other ways themselves.

The lines between “Project” & “BAU” are blurred

New features & capabilities are constantly announced. We planned to deliver a modern intranet which we initially budged for a 3-month custom development cycle. When it came time to start this piece of work, Microsoft has just announced Communication sites. Whilst the customer was nervous with adopting this brand-new feature, it worked out to be good choice. The intranet now grows and morphs with the platform. Lots of new features have been announced, most recently we have megamenus, header & footer customisation plus much more.  This was great during the project, but what happens when the project finishes? Who can help make sense of these new features?

Traditional plan-build-run models aren’t effective for a platform that continuously evolves outside of your control. This model lacks value creation & evolution. It makes the focus reactive incident management. To unlock value, you need to build a capability that can translate new features to opportunities & pain points within business teams. This helps deepen the IT/Business relationship & create value, not to mention help with adoption.

What have you recently learned? Leave a comment or drop me an email!

Con
Con.Efessopoulos@kloud.com.au

Create Office365 business value through the power of limitation

Recent consulting engagements have found me helping customers define what Office365 means to them & what value they see in its use. They are lucky to have licenses and are seeking help to understand how they drive value from the investment.

You’ve heard the sales pitches: Office365 – The platform to solve ALL your needs! From meetings, to document management, working with people outside your organisation, social networking, custom applications, business process automation, forms & workflow, analytics, security & compliance, device management…the list goes on and is only getting bigger!

When I hear Office365 described – I often hear attributes religious people give to God.

  • It’s everywhere you go – Omnipresent
  • It knows everything you do – Omniscient
  • It’s so powerful it can do everything you want – Omnipotent
  • It’s unified despite having multiple components – Oneness
  • It can punish you for doing with the wrong thing – Wrathful

It’s taking on a persona – how long before it becomes self-aware!?

If it can really meet ALL your needs, how do we define its use, do we just use it for everything? Where do we start? How do we define what it means if it can do everything?

Enter limitation. Limitation is a powerful idea that brings clarity through constraint. It’s the foundation on which definition is built. Can you really define something that can do anything?

The other side would suggest limiting technology constrains thinking and prevents creativity.  I don’t agree. Limitation begets creativity. It helps zero-in thinking and helps create practical, creative solutions with what you have. Moreover, having modern technology doesn’t make you a creative & innovative organisation. It’s about culture, people & process. As always, technology is a mere enabler.

What can’t we use Office365 for?

Sometimes its easier to start here. Working with Architecture teams to draw boundaries around the system helps provide guidance for appropriate use. They have a good grasp on enterprise architecture and reasons why things are the way they are. It helps clearly narrow use cases & provides a definition that makes sense to people.

  • We don’t use it to share content externally because of..
  • We can’t use it for customer facing staff because of…
  • We don’t use it for Forms & Workflow because we have <insert app name here>
  • We can’t don’t use it as a records management system because we have …

Office365 Use cases – The basis of meaning

Microsoft provide some great material on generic use cases. Document collaboration, secure external sharing, workflow, managing content on-the-go, making meetings more efficient etc.  These represent ideals and are sometimes too far removed from the reality of your organisation. Use them as a basis and further develop them with relevance to your business unit or organisation.

Group ideation workshops, discussions & brainstorming sessions are a great way to help draw out use cases. Make sure you have the right level of people, not too high & not too low. You can then follow-up with each and drill in to the detail and see the value the use case provides.

Get some runs on the board

Once you’ve defined a few use cases, work with the business to start piloting. Prove the use case with real-life scenarios. Build the network of people around the use cases and start to draw out and refine how it solves pain, for here is where true value appears. This can be a good news story that can be told to other parts of the business to build excitement.

Plan for supply & demand

Once you some have runs on the board, if successful, word will quickly get out. People will want it. Learn to harness this excitement and build off the energy created. Be ready to deal with sudden increase in supply.

On the demand side, plan for service management. How do people get support? Who support it?  How do we customise it? What the back-out plan? How do we manage updates? All the typical ITIL components you’d expect should be planned for during your pilots.

Office365 Roadmap to remove limitations & create new use cases

They are a meaningful way to communicate when value will be unlocked. IT should have a clear picture of business value is and how it will work to unlock the capabilities the business needs in order for it to be successful.

Roadmaps do a good at communicating this. Though typically, they are technology focused.  This might be a great way to help unify the IT team, but people on the receiving end wont quiet understand. Communicate using their language in ways they understand i.e. what value it will provide them, when & how it will help them be successful.

Know what you Value and how you Behave

In a previous post I discussed some tips on how to be a better consultant. A few people asked about my last tip – Stay true to your values.  They ask what are they? How do I know what I value? Do they really impact behaviour?  

What are values?

They are deeply held beliefs about behaviours or outcomes we think are important. In their book The Truth About Leadership, Kouzes & Posner do a great job of making them relevant:

Values drive commitment. People want to know what you stand for and believe in. They want to know what you value. And leaders need to know what others value if they are going to be able to forge alignments between personal values and organizational demands.

The Truth About Leadership – Kouzes & Posner

Our behaviours reflect what we value.

The Smartest Guys In the Room, a documentary about the collapse of US energy company Enron. A riveting account on how an organisation employing 29,000 people & bringing in over $100B USD annually can go from incredible success to collapse, overnight. Throughout the movie, various executives are interviewed and it’s clear they highly valued individual financial gain, status, innovation & competition but placed little on honesty, integrity, transparency & social responsibility.  This lead to behaviours like purposely shutting down power plants to inflate power prices, accounting fraud & outright lying to investors.

While this is an extreme example, it’s a demonstration of the link between values & behaviours.

My Values & My Team/Organisation

You often see companies talk about values on their website, during employee inductions or during strategy presentations. Some companies have awards aligned to values, which is great.  They do this because of the link between values & behaviour. They want employees to behave in certain ways. Alignment between organisation & your own values is key, as Peter Drucker the Godfather of management says:

 …to work in an organization whose value system is unacceptable or incompatible with one’s own condemns a person both to frustration and to non-performance.

Peter Drucker

This is ever so relevant on a team level. Imagine, you are someone who values quality above anything else. A project manager is demanding a quick turn around on a task. It’s going to frustrate you. You may not realise; this is a value conflict. You are being asked to comprise what you value i.e. quality. Often you won’t compromise, you’ll end up working after hours to ensure you stay true to what you value. If these requests continue, you’ll likely leave and find somewhere that values what you do.

There’s complexity in the workplace, you’ll undoubtedly be confronted with value conflicts.  For me, one hallmark of a great leader is when they can see a value conflict in what they ask and communicate in such a way that makes you understand you aren’t compromising. If you enjoy philosophy, there’s value in exploring the ethical side of behaviours. Notably – Consequentialism, Deontology & Virtue Ethics

Which one best describes you?

Working out what you value.

I find answering questions & surveys quite useful. Below is a useful template, one I’ve taken a few people through and had some good feedback.

It might be difficult to answer the questions first up, so have read, think about the questions & then have an honest go at answering.

Hopefully you’ll have greater awareness of what you value & how they impact your behaviours.

The struggle for meaning – Is the Intranet dead?

People struggle to find meaning in life. Our place in the world. The value we provide. Our political persuasions allow us to either rethink definitions or preserve our traditions & institutions. Funnily enough, this philosophical divide plays out in technology all the time.

The morbid question – Is the intranet dead? – seems to be popping its head up recently. I get it, the world is evolving, our expectations of ‘digital’ has changed and technology is at a point where it’s no longer a barrier to seizing opportunity.

Socialists would argue the traditional Intranet is dead or at least facing an identity crisis. The word shouldn’t be used or should significantly be redefined to reflect modern times.

Conservatives would argue there is no crisis, the Intranet is fine as is and should not change its definition. Doing so will shake the digital foundations of any modern enterprise.

It all comes back to meaning; what do we mean when we say Intranet?

The Google Definition:
“a local or restricted communications network, especially a private network created using World Wide Web software.”

Definition sets the baseline. It helps us see understand if any change is required. Here are some insights from the definition. 

Local or restricted

The core here is identity. Identity brings utility. Identity powers relevance. Who should have access? What content should they see? Access is historically defined by organisational boundaries i.e. All staff should have access, but not contractors or service providers.

Gone are the days when the intranet didn’t know who you are.

Communication + Network

The foundations of an intranet.  Communication is arguably the most important aspect. It’s evidenced by Corporate Communications teams having ownership and being influential when it comes to decision making. It’s viewed as the primary communications network as it’s available to everyone. It’s there when you login. It’s there when you open your browser.

Metcalf’s law is relevant here. The value of the system is proportional to the square-root of connections. Meaning – the more systems, people & content a person is connected to, the higher the value. Pre API-Revolution, meaningful integration was but a dream. We are now seeing the value of APIs – Data is the digital currency which flows through APIs.

Intranets need to become more networked. More connected. More relevant.

Others insights

  • It does not limit how it’s consumed –  It doesn’t specify browser, device, time or even place.
  • It limits how its created – Only World Wide Web software? So 2000. Conceptually this type of software is used, but its not limited to it.
  • It doesn’t limit evolution: My favourite. It shouldn’t be left to deteriorate whilst others evolve.
  • It doesn’t encapsulate trends: These days we hear about intelligence, digital workplace, responsive, <insert buzz word here> 
  • It doesn’t limit ownership; What are the roles & responsibilities of each group involved? What’s the hierarchy & decision-making process?

So…?

I favour evolution, not revolution. Definitions need to strike the right balance between ambiguity and being too explicit.  We can’t lose sight of the core – Communications, Network & Identity.  I do think we should drop the WWW part. Here’s the new definition: 

“a local or restricted communications network, especially a private network”

Beyond the Intranet? 

You may think it’s a boring adjustment. To me it provides the right amount of ambiguity that allows companies to give meaning to their intranet, keep a close eye on trends and deliver something that helps people be a valued part of the network. 

At its core the intranet is not dead. We have evolved the meaning as technology has enabled different opportunities. These trends are just ways of delivering the core definition in more eccentric ways.

Perhaps a new label is required? Digital Workplace? Digital Front door? Modern Workplace? Label it what you will, the definition is still the same. 

How to get started –5 Step’s to sustained success

So how do you delivery something? Process is important as it ensures focus. These 5 steps are what I typically. I’ll do a follow up blog on this process. 

  1. Define ownership, roles & responsibilities
  2. Define meaning & Scope: focus on evolution
  3. Select your platform
  4. Build for Day 1
  5. Analyse, Sustain & Evolve

-Con
con.efesssopoulos@kloud.com.au

Reflections from the field – Tips for being a better consultant

Striving to be better at what you do is important for your development. Though, it typically translates into developing what you know rather than how you act. For consulting (or any job), there are two parts to the equation; Hard Skills & Soft skills. Balance is needed so you should learn to develop both.
I aim to help people develop their soft skills. They are typically harder to define and require more attention. Below are concepts I work on developing every day and hopefully you can take some away and start developing them for yourself.

Quality builds trust which creates opportunity

The link between quality & trust is easy to understand. When a relationship or engagement is new, you must prove yourself. The best way is to deliver something of superior quality. Whether that’s a presentation, application or a document. Do what you can to make it a quality output. It can be difficult to define what the quality standard should be so it’s important to set this upfront.

Delivering quality is the best way to build trust however, being aware of when trust it exists is challenging. Know where you are at on the spectrum. It’s not as easy as asking ‘do you trust me’. Start with small tests to gauge where you are, build up to something bigger. Once trust is established, only then can you start being opportunistic and by that, I mean, challenge peoples thinking, pitching ideas, pitching for more work. If it doesn’t exist, work on getting it.

Understand when to focus on delivering quality versus being opportunistic

Own your brand

This is how people see you. Your actions, traits & values have a direct correlation to your brand. What you are known for? How effective do people think you are? How well do you know your domain of expertise? At some point, people will talk about you. Managers, customers or colleagues both past & future. These conversations, ones you aren’t involved in, define your brand and it’s important you own it.

What do you want to be known for?

Keep your commitments

Sounds simple enough. What you agree to in meetings, quick conversations or any other discussion. Manage them, follow up on them & keep on top of them. Let people know where they are up to. Don’t ignore them. Often, we forget the small things we commit to. I’ve found it’s delivering on these small things that go a long way in building quality relationships. People tend not to forget if you let them down.

Diligence is important to your brand. Avoid being that person who can’t keep commitments.

Embrace adversity, build your resilience

Before getting to this one, I’ll say that work can be tough. Mental health is far more important than any job you will ever work. Know your limits. If you are in need support, please seek it. Most companies have an assistance programs available so contact your manager or HR representative if you are feeling overwhelmed.

Something always goes wrong. You project isn’t delivering quality, a relationship is damaged, you can’t get something signed off or you’ve just gone live and everything is on fire. For me, building resilience has been key to being successful in consulting. When things aren’t going well it’s difficult to get motivated, relationships are left in the balance, and you probably want to give up. I believe it’s in these tough moments, our true character really comes out. Do you pull out all stops to get things back on track? Do you give up? How do you respond to these situations?

Adversity defines character but know your limits

Respond, don’t react

Passion is a beautiful thing. When harnessed and used in the right way it can lead to amazing things. We get passionate about what we create or are heavily involved in, so when things don’t go your way it’s very easy to get frustrated & annoyed. In these situations, it’s important to not let your emotions guide your reaction. They always manifest in negative ways. You become short, you get agitated, frustrated quicker and if left unchecked can impact the work you deliver.

Don’t write that email. Avoid confronting that person. Go and take time to think about a response.

Play the ball. Not the person.

Stay true to your values

What do you stand for? What’s the right thing to do? Morally & ethically, these are difficult questions to answer. People that know & live through their values are more content with their work & personal lives. Understanding these goes way beyond anything you can do at work. I’m of the view that your values are generally set by age 6 and from that point develop & mature. Work to identify what your values & seek work that aligns with them. When personal values don’t align with professional, it leads to a world of pain.

Hopefully this list can help you sharpen your softer skills & make you a more effective consultant.

Con
Con.Efessopoulos@kloud.com.au

User Psychology and Experience

Often times when designing a product or solution for a customer, in planning and concept development, we might consider the user experience to be one of two (or both) things:

  1. User feedback regarding their interaction with their technological environment/platforms
  2. The experience the user is likely to have with given technology based on various factors that contribute to delivering that technology to them; presentation, training, accessibility, necessity, intuitiveness, just to name a few.

These factors are not solely focused on the user and their role in the human – technology interaction process, but also their experience of dealing with us as solution providers. That is to say, the way in which we engage the experience and behaviour of the user is just as important to the delivery of new technology to them, as is developing our own understanding of a broader sense of human interfacing technology behaviour. UX is a colourful – pun intended – profession/skill to have within this industry. Sales pitches, demos and generally ‘wowing the crowd’ are a few of the ways in which UX-ers can deploy their unique set of skills to curve user behaviour and responsiveness in a positive direction, for the supplier especially.

Not all behavioural considerations with regards to technology are underpinned by the needs or requirements of a user, however. There are more general patterns of behaviour and characteristics within people, particularly in a working environment, that can be observed, to indicate how a user experiences [new] technology, including functionality and valued content that, at a base level, captures a user’s attention. The psychology of this attention can be broken down into a simplified pathology: the working mechanisms of perception as a reaction to stimulus, and how consistent the behaviour is that develops out of this. The stimulus mentioned are usually the most common ones when relating to technology; visual, auditory.

You’ve likely heard of, or experienced first-hand, the common types of attention in everyday life. The main three are identified as selective, divided and undivided. Through consistency of behavourial outcomes, or observing in a use case a consistent reaction to stimuli, we look to observe a ‘sustainability of attention or interest’ over an extended period of the time, even if repetition of an activity or a set of activities is involved. This means that the solution, or at very least, the awareness and training developed to sell a solution, should serve a goal of achieving sustainable attention.

How Can We Derive a Positive User Experience through Psychology?

Too much information equals lack of cognitive intake. From observation and general experience, a person’s attention, especially when captured within a session, a day or week, is a finite resource. Many other factors of an individual’s life can create a cocktail of emotions which makes people in general, unpredictable in a professional environment. The right amount of information, training and direct experience should be segmented based on a gauge of the audience’s attention. Including reflection exercises or on-the-spot feedback, especially in user training can give you a good measure of this. The mistake of cognitively overloading the user can be best seen when a series of options are present as viable routes to the desired solution or outcome. Too many options can, at worst, create confusion, an adversity to the solution and new technologies in general, and an overall messy user experience.

Psychology doesn’t have to be a full submersion into the human psyche, especially when it comes to understanding the user experience. Simple empathy can be a powerful tool to mitigate some of the aforementioned issues of attention and to prevent the cultivation of repeated adverse behaviour from users. When it boils down to the users, most scenarios in the way of behaviour and reaction have been seen and experienced before, irrespective of the technology being provided. Fundamentally, it is a human experience that [still] comes first before we look at bridging the user and the technology. For UX practitioners, tools are already in-place to achieve this such as user journey maps and story capturing,

There are new ideas still emerging around the discipline of user experience, ‘UX’. From my experience with it thus far, it presents a case that it could integrate very well with modern business analysis methodologies. It’s more than designing the solution, it’s solutions based on how we, the human element, are designed.

Provisioning complex Modern Sites with Azure Functions and Flow – Part 3 – Post Provisioning Site Configuration

In the previous two blogs part 1 and part 2, we looked at steps to create a Modern team site and apply a custom provisioning template to it. In this blog, we will have a look at the steps for the post provisioning process to implement site specific requirements. Some of them could be:

1. Apply default values to list fields
2. Create a bunch of default folders
3. Manage Security groups (SP level) and permission level.
4. Navigation level changes
5. Add/Enable web parts or custom actions (SPFx extensions)

Most of the above steps are part of SharePoint Provisioning processes for a long time, just are less complex now with Provisioning templates doing a lot of heavy lifting. I will be writing very soon about PnP Templates, do and don’ts.

Pre-requisties

One key point to add is that, with Modern Team Sites and Office 365 Groups we cannot add AD security groups into a Office 365 Unified Group. For more information, please see this link.

The apply template process (link) takes about 45-90 min (long running process) for complex templates so wouldn’t be possible to start the post process on a flow wait state. Hence, we could trigger the post provisioning process on update of an inventory item or poll an endpoint for the status. In our case, we triggered the process when updating the inventory list with a status that apply template process is complete.

Post Provisioning Process

1. The first step of the Post Provisioning proces is to make sure that noscript is enabled on the team site (link) and all dependencies are ready such as Term stores, Navigation items, Site Pages, Content types, site columns etc. For a complex site template, this step will check for failure conditions to make sure that all artefacts are in place.

Note: The below sequence of steps could vary based on the solution 
and site structure in place but this was the faster way to 
isolate issues and ensure dependencies.

After the failure checks are done, we will start with the Site structure changes and navigation changes. For implementing navigation changes, check the blogs here and here.

2. Next, we will update any site specific site columns, site content types and permission level changes. A upcoming blog will have more details to this.

3. After that, we will update the changes for list structure, we will move to list specific updates such as default value setting, modifying list properties etc.

4. Next let’s move on to Apps and Site Pages updates. These changes take time because of SharePoint ALM lifecycle any possible duplications. So error handling is the key. Please check the blog here and for steps to deploy app and web parts here.

5. Before we finalize the site, let’s provision folders and metadata. This is not a simple process if you have to set metadata values for large number of folders like in our case 800 recursive folders (child in parent). So we will use the metadata file override. All the values in the defaults file have to be hardcoded before override.

Note: The metadata file override is not generally a good approach 
because of possible corruption that renders the library unusable 
so do error handling for all cases. For the CSOM approach check here.

6. Finally, we will set the site Property bag values for Site to set some of the tags making the site searchable. Here is the blog for the same.

Conclusion

The above we saw the final process of Site Provisioning process with setting up site properties and attributes for preparing the site before handing it off to business for use.

Kicking Things Off – Writing the Right SOW

It’s one thing to convert a conversation around a broad scope of work into a well-defined and articulated, 3 to 4-page proposal (sometimes 20 +, depending on whose template you’re using), it’s another thing for a client or customer to read through this document, often, multiple times due to a review and response cycle, before finally agreeing to it.

Most don’t enjoy this process. Client stakeholders usually look for a few key things when it comes to the SOW: price, time (hours) and key dates. Other parts are usually skimmed over or can be missed altogether, at least in my experience.

While the above might be nothing new, perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves whether there’s a better way of doing this – can the client business owner, or nominated stakeholder on behalf of the business owner, be more involved, collaboratively in the SOW writing process so that unified goal between supplier and customer be achieved?

Absolutely.

Recent engagements with various stakeholders have made me realise, as a business analyst, how crucial this aspect of the project is and can, at times, be a sore point to reference back to when the project is in-flight, and expectations don’t align with what is in writing. Therefore, entering an engagement with the mindset of getting semantics right from the get go might save from hindering any quality to delivering down the line.

Usually engaging in potential work with a client involves a conversation – not a sales pitch, just simply talking it through. What follows from here for effective SOW writing is what underpins any good collaborative effort – a channel of clear and responsive communication.

It’s best to idealise this process in stages:

  • After initial discussion, an email to prospective client containing a skeleton SOW that simply outlines the conversation that was had. This reaffirms the context and conveys listening and understanding from you as the potential solution/service provider. If the engagement is with a new client, convey some understanding of the context around the company
  • Avoid fluffing it out with proposal-sounding adjectives and dialogue, keep no-nonsense and to-the-point
  • Work with the client to clearly define what is expected to be delivered and how long it could potentially take, based on flexibility or constraints on resources for both sides
  • Define what it will cost based on all the known variables – avoid basing this on ambiguity or pre-gap analysis of the outlined work at this stage.
  • Add value to the SOW by considering if there’s a better way to do the proposed work. This is something I’ve found that Kloud always maintains when approaching a piece of work

By defining the ‘pre-sales’ in this way, and by communicating effectively with your client during a proposal, the ‘joyless’ experience of writing a SOW (as it can be commonly perceived) may be alleviated and player a smaller role in convincing your client to work with you.

It’s refreshing to view this process unlike a proposal, but rather a conversation. After the discovery call, we should establish confidence in the client with us as consultants. The only thing left to deal with now is the project itself.

 

 

 

The Yammer Roast

Taking my inspiration from Comedy Central, the Yammer Roast is a forum in which we can directly address resistances around Yammer, its role, and past failures in retrospect.
Some of my clients have tried with Yammer and concluded that for various reasons it’s failed to take hold. For some the value is clear and it’s a case of putting a compelling approach and supporting rationale to sponsors and consumers who remain sceptical. For others, they are looking for a way to make it work in their current collaboration landscape.
The Yammer roast is designed to tease out, recognise and address key resistances. It’s not an opportunity to blindly evangelise Yammer; it’s an exercise in consulting to provide some clarification around Yammer as a business solution, and what’s needed for a successful implementation.
In this article, I’ll cover some of the popular resistances aired at Yammer Roasts, why these resistances exist and how you can address them. If you’re an advocate for social networking in your own organisation, my hope is that this can inform your own discussion.

  1. We have concerns over impropriate usage, distraction from proper work

There’s a perception that Yammer is a form of distraction and employees will be off posting nonsense on Yammer instead of doing proper work. Even worse, they may be conducting themselves inappropriately.
A self-sustaining Yammer network has to find that balance between [non-work stuff] and [work stuff], and it needs an element of both to be successful. Informal, social contributions beget more meaningful work contributions.
Consider what is perceived as informal, non-work-stuff to be valuable. That person who just posted a cat picture? They are adopting your platform. As are those people who liked or commented on it. Consider the value to the organisation if people are connecting with each other and forming new relationships, outside of the confines of an organisational hierarchy.
Assume your employees know how to conduct themselves and can practice good netiquette. They signed a contract of employment which includes clauses pertaining to code of conduct. Perhaps refer to that in your terms of use.
Establish a core principal that no contribution should be discouraged. It really doesn’t matter where content in Yammer is generated, and any one person’s view of the content is informed by who they follow, the groups they subscribe to and the popularity of content. Uninteresting, irrelevant content is quickly hidden over time.  “But what if someone puts a cat picture in the All Company feed?” So what? What if the CEO likes it? Consider creating a foundational set of groups to ensure that on day one there’s more than just the All Company feed.
Strike that balance between work-stuff and non-work stuff.  Set an objective for your community manager (yes, a formal responsibility!) to help combat potential stage fright; there are numerous incentives and initiatives that can come into play here.  Accept the fact that your social network will, and should, grow organically.

  1. We’ve got Yammer and no-one is using it.

…but your partners and vendors are and they’re looking to collaborate with you.
Stagnant networks; a common scenario. Your organisation may be looking at alternative platforms as a way to reset/relaunch. Here, you lament the lack of tangible, measurable business outcomes at the outset of the initial rollout or the lack of investment in change management activities to help drive adoption of the platform.
You’ll smile and nod sagely, and perhaps talk to a view similar to the following:

But, for whatever reason, you’re here. So how can past experiences inform future activities?
Whether you use Yammer or not, the success of your social network in its infancy is dependent on measurable business outcomes. Without the right supporting campaign, a way to track adoption and a way to draw insight from usage, you effectively roll the dice with simply ‘turning it on’. Initiatives around Yammer can start small with a goal of communicating the success (of a process) and subsequently widening its application within your business.
Simply swapping out the technology without thinking about the business outcome may renew interest from sponsors who’ve lost faith in the current product, but you risk a rinse and repeat scenario.
“But we’re dependent on executive sponsorship!” I hear you lament. This is a by-product of early boilerplate change campaigns, where success somehow rested on executives jumping in to lead by example. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great when this happens. From my perspective, you need any group within your business with a value use case and the willingness to try. You have O365, the technology is there.
You can consider the Yammer client to not just be a portal into your network, but the networks of your vendors and partners. Access to your partner/vendor product teams (via Yammer External Networks) and being able to leverage subject matter expertise from them and the wider community is a compelling case in the absence of an internal use case.
Combatting any negative perceptions of your social network following a failure to launch is all about your messaging, and putting Yammer’s capability into a wider context, which leads me to…

  1. But we’re using Teams, Slack, Jabber, Facebook for Workplace (delete as appropriate)

Feature parity – it can be a head scratcher. “But we can collaborate in Skype. And Teams! And Yammer! And via text! What will our users do?” Enterprise architects will be advocating the current strategic platform in the absence of a differentiator, or exception. Your managed services team will be flagging additional training needs. There will be additional overheads.
If you’re there to champion Yammer in the face of an incumbent (or competing) solution, you need to adopt the tried and tested approach which is 1. Identify the differentiator and align the new technology (i.e. Yammer) to it, 2. Quantify the investment, and 3. Outline the return on investment.
As a consultant my first conversations are always focused around the role Yammer will play in your organisation’s collaboration landscape. The objective is to ensure initial messaging about Yammer will provide the required clarity and context.
This reminds me of an engagement some time ago; an organisation with a frontline workforce off the radar forming working groups in Facebook. “We aren’t across what’s going on. We need to bring them over to Yammer.” Objective noted, but consider the fact that a) these users have established their networks and their personal brand, b) they are collaborating in the knowledge that big brother isn’t watching. Therefore, there’s no way in hell they’ll simply jump ship. The solution? What can you provide that this current solution cannot? Perhaps the commitment to listen, respond and enact change.
The modern digital workplace is about choice and choice is okay. Enable your users to make that informed decision and do what is right for their working groups.

  1. It’s another app. There’s an overhead to informing and educating our business.

Of course there is. This is more around uncertainty as to the strategy for informing and educating your business. Working out the ‘what’s in it for me?’ element.
There is a cost to getting Yammer into the hands of your workforce. For example, from a technical perspective, you need to provide everyone with the mobile app (MAM scenarios included) and help users overcome initial sign-in difficulties (MFA scenarios included). Whatever this may cost in your organisation, your business case needs to provide a justification (i.e.) return on that investment.
Campaign activities to drive adoption are dependent on the formal appointment of a Community Manager (in larger organisations), and a clear understanding around moderation. So you do need to create that service description and governance plan.
I like to paint a picture representing the end state – characteristics of a mature, self-sustaining social network. In this scenario, the Yammer icon sits next to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook on the mobile device. You’re a click away from your colleagues and their antics. You get the same dopamine rush on getting an alert. It’s click bait.  God forbid, you’re actually checking Yammer during the ad-break, or just before bed time. Hang on, your employee just pointed someone in the right direction, or answered a question. Wait a second! That’s voluntarily working outside of regular hours! Without pay!

  1. Yammer? Didn’t that die out a few years ago?

You’ve got people who remember Yammer back in the days before it was a Microsoft product. Yammer was out there. You needed a separate login for Yammer. There were collaboration features built into Microsoft’s SharePoint platform but they sucked in comparison, and rather than invest in building competitive, comparative features into their own fledgling collaboration solution, Microsoft acquired Yammer instead.
Roll out a few months, and there’s the option to swap out social/newsfeed features in SharePoint for those in Yammer, via the best possible integration at the time (which was essentially link replacement).
Today, with Office 365, there’s more integration. Yammer has supported O365 sign-in for a couple of years now. Yammer functions are popping up in other O365 workloads. A good example is the Talk about this in Yammer function in Delve, which then frames the resulting conversation from Yammer within the Delve UI: From an end user experience perspective there is little difference between Yammer now and the product it was pre-Microsoft acquisition, but the product has undergone significant changes (external groups and networks for example). Expect ongoing efforts to tighten integration with the rest of the O365 suite, understand and address the implications of cutting-off that functionality.
The Outcome
Yammer (or your social networking platform of choice) becomes successful when it demonstrates a high value role in driving your organisation’s collaborative and social culture. In terms of maturity we’re taking self-sustaining, beyond efforts to drive usage and lead by example.
Your social network is an outlet for everyone in your organisation. People new to your organisation, will see it as a reflection of your collaborative and social culture; give them a way to connect with people and immediately contribute in their own way.
It can be challenging to create such an outlet where the traditional hierarchy is flattened, where everyone has a voice (no matter who they are and where they sit within the organisation). Allowing online personalities to develop without reluctance and other constraints (“if it’s public, it’s fair game!”) will be the catalyst to generating the relationships, knowledge, insight (and resulting developments) that will improve your business.

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